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Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
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Something Like Normal

by Trish Doller

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Travis Stephenson is a Marine home on leave after a deployment in Afghanistan, and things aren't peaceful on the home front. His relationship with his father is still as bad as it was when Travis joined the Marines to get away from his disapproval. His younger brother is dating his ex-girlfriend, Paige, and driving his car without permission. His mother is behaving oddly, his parent's marriage may be breaking up, and he no longer has anything in common with his old friends. His worst problem is that he's consumed by guilt over the death of his best friend in combat and experiencing serious PTSD symptoms. The one bright spot in all this is Harper. She and Travis have bad history going back to middle school, but he's hoping that they can put it behind them because she's the only person in Florida he actually wants to spend time with.

I had a very mixed reaction to this book. I liked some aspects of it very much and others not at all. On the positive side Travis is a great POV character and his story was engaging. He isn't perfect by any means, but he felt very real for a 19 year old dealing with PTSD and a host of other personal pressures who is trying to grow up and figure out how to move forward with his life. That aspect of the story was very well done. I also liked his relationship with his friends from his unit. Their interactions are that combination of profane, mean, and supportive that's so common in the friendships of young men and I enjoyed them.

Unfortunately other aspects of the book weren't as strong. The main issues were with romance. Travis and Harper had very bad history which was Travis' fault. When he ran into her and tried to be casual and friendly she literally punched him in the face. I'm not one to advocate violence, but he had it coming. Unfortunately, that was it. From there they moved right into a tentative relationship that quickly became something more. It felt like their history got swept under the rug so we could hurry up and get to the romance and then the romance was unsatisfying because Harper remained underdeveloped as a character. The strong girl who gave Travis a black eye ended up as little more than the stereotype of the perfect girlfriend instead of a fully realized character.

The problem was made worse by the unsubtle contrast drawn between her and Paige. Paige was such a lousy person that she was almost a cartoon version of the trampy bad girl. Compared to Harper the incredibly supportive and forgiving virgin her character felt ridiculous and the whole thing had more than a whiff of Madonna/whore slut-shaming. I'm never comfortable with that and I really didn't like it in this case. It just wasn't well done.

My other main complaint is that I would have liked to see more interaction between Travis and his brother Ryan, and a better resolution to their conflict. They each had a long list of reasons to dislike the other and plenty of those complaints were valid, but ultimately the problem lay far more with their parents than with them and I wish Travis had been able to see that. In other respects Travis actually displayed a good bit of self-awareness for his age, but not when it came to Ryan. I was left wondering what the story would look like from his POV and whether either of them ever figured out that they should stop wasting their time being mad at each other and be mad at their parents instead.

Overall I enjoyed Travis' story, but I really wish the problems hadn't overshadowed the excellent parts as much as they did. ( )
  LoriAnnK | Apr 16, 2015 |
While on leave from a tour in Afghanistan, 19-year-old Travis returns to his Florida hometown haunted by nightmares of his best friend being killed in combat and struggling with PTSD. When Travis gets to know Harper, a girl whose reputation he'd ruined with false rumors years before, he wonders if maybe a second chance with her might just be a second chance at a something-like-normal life for himself. "Something Like Normal" was a short, poignant read that at turns made me laugh out loud and weep openly. This book is a fantastic glimpse into what so many young soldiers are facing today. ( )
  TheMadHatters | Apr 19, 2014 |
Trish Doller brings us into the mind of a young Marine who comes home on leave after being on tour in Afghanistan. But it's no happy homecoming for Travis. The 19-year-old has nightmares every night, sees his dead best friend everywhere, and can't connect with his old friends as he was once able to do. To make matters worse, his parents are having marital issues, and he gets along even worse with his father and brother than he did before. But there is a bit of hope when he reconnects with Harper, that is, after she punches him in the eye for ruining her life. The two begin a tentative friendship, which turns into something a bit more. But their relationship will have to go up against Travis's troubled mind.

I really enjoyed Trish Doller's debut. It seemed very genuine to me, and it was clear she did her research—that much is confirmed in her acknowledgements. I'm so glad it was told from Travis's perspective, as I don't think I've ever read a contemporary novel told from the perspective of someone who had been at war, especially a war that is continuing right now.

It's clear from the beginning that Travis is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. His best friend, Charlie, lost his life while they were on tour, and he was there to see it happen. He feels incredibly guilty that Charlie was the one to die and not him, and he struggles with that every day of his life. The language is raw and very real, as are the experiences the teens in this novel have.

A note about the characters. Not everyone is likable at once. Travis's buddies are rough around the edges, as is Travis himself, but I appreciated that. I really liked the relationship he had with his mother, which develops from one where Travis has trouble expressing his feelings to one where he is able to stick up for his mom and help her out in whatever way he is able to. His dad was pretty much just a jerk, and I kept waiting for Travis to put him in his place. His brother too.

The main relationship in here is between Travis and Harper. Initially, Harper hates Travis because of an exaggerated story that took on a life of its own when they were freshmen in high school that pretty much destroyed her reputation. But somehow they get past that, and slowly they become closer. Harper is able to calm Travis in a way no one else can; she manages to ground him and keep him steadier than he is able to keep himself alone. And Doller doesn't wrap everything up in a nice bow, either. Travis is still dealing with his demons at the novel's end, and he and Harper are still working on their relationship, which of course becomes long distance since he is not finished with his tour of duty. We don't know where they end up, but the last lines are filled with hope and promise of having a life that isn't perfect, but is bearable and as normal as they can hope.

This is a really important book for teens to read, especially those who know someone who is fighting overseas. It might help them to understand a little bit better what soldiers go through and what they deal with when they come home.

Review originally posted here: http://tahleenreads.blogspot.com/2012/07/review-something-like-normal-by-trish.h... ( )
1 vote Tahleen | Feb 16, 2014 |
This was a cute little book. It wasn't very long and was kind of depressing for me.. not that the story didn't end well. It was well written, and I actually could relate to the main character being male and all. I would've liked to read what actually happened in the hotel room, but the story isn't about kink, it's about the effect of trauma and war. I did cry and laugh at moments too. All in all it was a good read. ( )
  asgwilli | Dec 2, 2013 |
Travis has returned from war and nothing is as it was. He sleeps on the floor because his bed seems like just too much. He keeps having dreams and of course there's a girl. Not my particular cup of tea but a very important book for those returning or those who have someone who is returning. ( )
  Brainannex | Oct 25, 2013 |
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When Travis returns home from Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and car, and he has nightmares of his best friend getting killed but when he runs into Harper, a girl who has despised him since middle school, life actually starts looking up.… (more)

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